Meg Matt, contributing editor
Let me set the scene for you. It’s Monday morning, and you are the marketing communications manager for a (pick one) rural electric cooperative, a small municipal utility or a small investor-owned energy company. The key word here is small.
Is your utility customer-focused? Yes. Have dedicated employees? Absolutely. Have plenty of power to handle summer and winter peaks? You bet. Have a marketing communications budget that would make ad firms dizzy with glee? Well, no. But, it’s a beautiful Monday morning, and you’ve just been given the assignment of promoting a balanced payment program. You smile and ask how much will you have for your marketing campaign. The amount mentioned brings tears to your eyes, and they’re not tears of joy. Sound familiar?
When marketing dollars are scarce, there are still ways to promote a marketing program that won’t break the bank. Chances are you have some established marketing communications channels at your disposal. Add a dash of creativity, and you’re well on the way to getting the word out about the benefits of your program.
Develop your marketing message, reasons to buy
Once you understand the details of the program, you’ll want to develop a list of the key features and benefits this program offers your customers. Ask yourself, “Why should a customer care about this program? How will this program make their lives easier?”
Talk to some customers about the program and find out what they think are the features and benefits. Their input is invaluable to the marketing message.
Use established marketing channels
While your budget might not cover the cost of print, radio and TV advertising, one commonly used communication channel that can be quite effective is the monthly utility bill. Whether it’s a bill insert designed to catch their attention or an announcement in the customer newsletter, you can at least be assured that the envelope will be opened.
Another channel is your Web site. While it’s safe to say that your company’s Web site probably doesn’t get the same number of visitors as Amazon.com, it is still an existing channel that is a low-cost communications vehicle. Look for opportunities to cross-promote one program with another. For example, a balanced-bill program dovetails nicely with an online energy audit.
The call center and local neighborhood offices (if your company still has them) can play a major role in the program promotion. Work with your colleagues in customer service to develop information that customer-facing employees can use to educate customers about the program. Many call centers develop sales competitions that motivate and reward employees who enroll the most customers.
Another often overlooked communications channel is employee communication. Your employees are some of the most credible spokespeople in the company. Make sure the program has been rolled out internally, so they can mention it to their friends and neighbors.
The role of public relations
Once you have the internal communications set up, it’s time to take your message to the media. Develop a clear, concise press kit that contains the following elements (at the minimum):
“- Press release-the shorter the better.
“- Fact sheet-provide more detailed information about the program.
“- Samples of collateral-enclose samples (of billing inserts, direct mail programs) for the media.
Don’t forget to follow up with the media to see if they have any questions about the press kit and to offer your help in setting up any interviews they might need to help them develop their story.
Also, continually follow up with customer service, billing and other relevant departments to solicit their feedback on the program. Why (or why not) are customers signing up for the program? What type of media coverage has it received? This information helps you fine-tune your marketing message, customer education materials, etc.
Finally, take pride in the work that you do. You may be resource constrained, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get the word out just as effectively as those with monster budgets.
Meg Matt is founder and principal of The Matt Group, an integrated marketing communications firm specializing in the energy industry. She has more than 25 years of internal and external communications experience, including brand strategy, competitive assessments and marketing. She can be reached at 480-704-0897 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.